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The Optimal Negotiator

A Companion for Serious Deal Makers

Here are just two (of the 88) “chapters” that await you in The Optimal Negotiator:

1.    Always distinguish wants from needs. 

Negotiations begin with an articulation of wants. The initial position espoused is invariably a statement of what the negotiators would like to achieve, not what they can “live with.” Artful negotiating is a process of identifying and satisfying the needs of the other party, not capitulating to the initial outline of wants.

To illustrate, consider our wants and needs when it comes to something as basic as  transportation. The primary requirement is surely to arrive at the intended destination safely. While I would  prefer to travel in style and comfort, if not luxury, the basic need is to simply “get there,” hopefully in a timely fashion. So, while I might desire to drive (or perhaps be chauffeured) in an expensive automobile, my principle concern is for reliable transportation, which can be adequately met with a less extravagant vehicle.  Indeed, a bicycle will do.  Or, if there is no alternative, I could walk.

Similarly, when an opposing negotiator begins by asking for something you feel is outrageous or beyond your means, calm yourself and consider this critically important question: “What is she really asking for?” Consider both the personal and organizational needs that might lie behind the opening proposition.  Understand that the first number in a negotiation is never the final number. Take the time to discover her interests, motivations and aspirations. This is what she says she wants; what is it that she really needs?

The challenge of discovering a negotiator’s deeper, driving needs is that very few people really know what their basic needs are. They’re more focused on what they’d like to see happen. Even when they do know what their needs are, they are unlikely to tell  you at the outset of your negotiation. To discover the needs of your alter-negotiator, you must know how to artfully question, probe and encourage a definition of wants.

Like most things you’ll discover about negotiating, the best approach to ascertaining needs is not difficult. Just ask a few simple, straightforward questions, like: Why do you want that? Or, What are you going to do with it? By discovering the reasons that lie behind the wants, and by learning more about her personal interests, aspirations and objectives, you will have begun to ascertain the needs.

Although we may articulate the same or similar wants, we are not motivated by the same fundamental needs. And that’s why win-win deals are always possible.

Seek first to understand, then to be understood.   –  Stephen Covey
 

3.     People need time to accept new ideas.

When should you ask for that which you really want (especially if your position is a difficult one for the other party to accept)? The answer is: right at the outset of the negotiation. And, when you do, expect the obvious response: “No. You can’t have it.”

In a typical negotiation, people start the process with opposing points of view. The objective, of course, is to change that point of view. When positions are far apart or seem intractable, this usually can take some time. But two basic principles are working in your favour. The first is that negotiating is an investment of time and effort. And the return on that investment is that time changes everything. The second principle is that “giving gets.” In the quid pro quo discussion that ensues, your alter- negotiator will soon discover the necessity to modify his position as a means of encouraging you to accept his.

Even the most brilliant ideas are rejected at the outset – largely because they have not been contemplated before. The philosopher John Stuart Mill once observed that “Every great movement must experience three stages: ridicule, discussion and adoption.” Don’t become dispirited when you hear your opening position rejected. Remind yourself that he likely has never thought about your novel concept before, that he needs time to “sleep on it” or, perhaps, to discuss it with others. Consider also that you have yet to hear his reasons for opposing your idea. Perhaps it’s a notion he doesn’t fully understand or maybe he has some concerns that you need to address.

People become comfortable with new or difficult ideas by going through a necessary transition. They don’t immediately embrace  “yes” for many reasons. And they typically begin this transition by expressing a qualified “maybe” – as in “let me think about that” or “I’ll talk with Harry” or “We’ll study it and get back to you.” None of these responses implies disagreement, just that acceptance of the proposition requires more time.  The responses do signify progress. And that is always your primary objective in a negotiation – to gradually and gracefully advance the discussion towards the desired outcome.

Conversely, when you hear a new idea or a difficult request, how should you respond? Start with the qualified “maybe.” This conveys the impression that you are flexible and open-minded (even though you might disagree with their position). This response will likely make your opponent more receptive to your ideas. It will also protect your reputation should you eventually have to disagree with an unacceptable request or demand.

He that wrestles with us strengthens our nerves and sharpens our skills.
Our antagonist is our helper.    – Edmund Burke

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